Mourning my mother through anime

There is no fact of life harder to face, or conceptualise, than its ending. Since I lost my mother last year, I’ve been struggling for ways to guard against the fact she will never be a phone call away, that strong, vital voice of reassurance. There’s the regret that I should have treasured her more when she was here, made more time to be with her before she was taken away. But even still, I can only find gratitude for the slideshow of our shared moments, flickering warm inside this body she created. I appreciate her now at a distance. It’s a feeling of disconnect that’s hard to get used to, but I have the perfect mirror for how I feel in the flowing snapshots of anime.

Princess Mononoke, the lightning flash that first stunned me with the fierce grace that anime could be capable of, is an even more painful tale of mending, belonging, learning to coexist with nature’s cruelty rather than fighting against it. Motherless, fatherless, the demi-goddess of beasts San finds solace with wolves who doubtless love her, but cannot be a surrogate for the human bonds she lost. There was too much grief in humanity’s destruction of her beloved nature for her to stay, she thought. But if her hurts and those of the earth were to heal, she must heed the call to stand and face them.

Her world as she knows it collapses to enable new life. She watches and mourns for the loss of her mother Earth, no longer in denial of her human soul and the mortality of all things. The truth remains, mankind was where she began and where she will always be needed. It was simply too much before, to claim that frailty and take action; easier to claim to be inhuman and bury the grief.


A smile for a life lived in passionate red

Feelings of inhumanity have become oddly apt in reaching the core of the catharsis I need. Black Butler’s progeny of power, the earl Ciel Phantomhive, has been followed by death’s shadow since he was left orphaned, his parents burned to ashes along with the family home in an act of malice. The manor was rebuilt, and so Ciel defied death to revive his father’s toymaking empire, and take on the mantle of Queen Victoria’s guard against supernatural forces.

Taking what he feels to be his failing with him in every step, he walks numbed even when loss strikes his family once more. The funeral for his aunt Madam Red, his mother’s sister, is heightened from a drab recitation to a scandalous splendour with Ciel’s late arrival. He lays her scarlet dress over her still, pale form, the white gown chosen for her unbecoming to the “passionate red” with which she left her mark on the world.

I know that vivid colour well, and the bruise it leaves in absence. Ciel has lost his last close tie to his mother’s love, but he meets it with an aura of pride. His lack of tears, or any outward display of mourning is the same that’s brought me some guilt since my mother’s death. At her funeral, I remembered her with a smile. I don’t often cry for her. I worry that I am some demon who didn’t love her enough. But I see and feel Ciel’s hidden grief as my own.

Continues on next page…

11 Comments on Mourning my mother through anime

  1. I just wan to say that I really loved this post, and thought it was very beautifully written. It’s one of those that just simply leaves you kind of at a loss for words, which in this case I really mean as a very high compliment😊


    • Elisabeth O'Neill // January 30, 2018 at 7:41 pm // Reply

      Thank you so much! Emotionally it was pretty tough to write, so it means a lot that you and others think it’s beautiful.


  2. Thank you for sharing—death and loss have come into my life lately, and I continue to process these ideas. Like you, I’ve thought about anime (I wrote a piece recently—not yet posted—about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 that helped me think things out). I hope the best for you as you continue to cope with the loss and learn to live this new life that’s so altered. And thank you, again, for sharing (and for giving me a new perspective, too, on Princess Mononoke—one of my favorite films).


    • Elisabeth O'Neill // January 30, 2018 at 7:40 pm // Reply

      I’m so glad this piece reached you when you’re going through the same struggle. I hope there was a bit of comfort in it for you, and that you’re coping okay. Mononoke is one of those works you go back to every so often and see something brand new in its meaning, and just reflecting on it brought that new meaning to mind. Happy to have passed it on to someone who loves the movie like I do 😊


  3. This is genuinely really beautiful, thanks for posting it.


  4. I’m going to sound like an echo, but this was a beautifully moving post.


  5. Usually I take a while and put down a comment if I can add something (I get trapped in my own head that way), but this time I am literally left speechless. This was a really touching, moving and great post and it brought a few tears to my eye. I’ll echo the others. I can’t add anything more.


    • Elisabeth O'Neill // January 30, 2018 at 7:32 pm // Reply

      Knowing you felt something from it is enough, thank you. Just having it reach someone makes a piece like this worth writing.


  6. Incredible meditation on the loss of your mother and what it could all mean, and it really in a page… taught me something. Thank-you.

    Your mother raised someone really special here. You…


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